Ghazal:  America

The prophet Isaiah tells us that some day people "will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." That was about twenty-five hundred years ago, and I'm still waiting. But the truth is, through most of history, poets and writers have celebrated the idea of the warrior. Celebrated war. Glorified war. Only since the World War I and a few poets like Wilfred Owen has it become possible for masses of people--including poets--to see war as ugly and stupid. So we are really just beginning, just taking the first step on the path to peace.

Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
In first grade when we learned to sing America

The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
And say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

We put our hands over our first grade hearts
We felt proud to be part of America

I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
Maybe I was right about America

School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
When we learned how to behave in America

What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
Who didn’t understand us or America

Only later understanding theBannerand theBeautiful
Lived on opposite sides of the street in America

Only later discovering this land is two lands
One triumphant bully one merciful America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
Somehow or other carried away by America

About the Author

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker is a major American poet and critic. The author of twelve volumes of poetry, she has been twice nominated for the National Book Award. Her most recent volume of poems, The Book of Seventy (Univ. of Pittburgh Press 2009), won the Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Ostriker is the author of two major critical books on women's poetry, Writing Like a Woman and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America. She has also published three books on the Bible, Feminist Revision and the Bible, the controversial The Nakedness of the Fathers; Biblical Visions and Revisions, a combination of prose and poetry that re-imagines the Bible from the perspective of a contemporary Jewish woman, and a set of essays, For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book. Her most recent book of criticism is Dancing at the Devil's Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics and the Erotic.